Monday, August 18, 2014

Hampton Fire Aftermath-Early August 2014

 In early August we went out one afternoon to see what Hampton Creek looked like after a recent wildfire. The clouds had settled over the tops of the mountains.

The road down into the canyon showed us our first burned trees.

We stopped a few times to take a closer look. The yucca had burned, but should be back soon. One of the most interesting features was a rock-lined ditch I had never noticed before.

This ditch continued a long way, across springs, through the trees. The story I heard is that a one-armed World War I veteran lined the ditch to get more water down the canyon, so it wouldn't sink into the alluvium.

That sure would have been a lot of work!

The other thing that really surprised me was all the springs that were close to the road that I had never noticed before due to the thick vegetation. Now they are much easier to find, and vegetation was already growing again.

We saw a variety of insects, including this charismatic fly. I found the feet particularly interesting.

The springbrook looked orange because apparently that's what color moss turns when it burns.

Up at the old garnet mill site we found the structures still intact.

We also took some time to look at the old equipment, which I had never noticed before.

The trailhead sign had burned and some indication of channeling was evident.

We kept looking for signs of life, and Desert Girl was pleased to find this fresh deer track.

It was an interesting afternoon checking out the burned area. We're going to have to do it again soon because last week a storm cell stalled over the watershed and dumped rain, causing a flash flood that washed away parts of the road. The landscape has changed once again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ode to Wet Rocks

 Last night we had a humdinger of a rainstorm, with lots of lightning and intense downpours. We hardly know what rain is, since we usually only get about 6 inches a year! We probably got close to an inch of that last night. Afterwards Desert Girl was eager to get out and jump in puddles.

Today we went for a hike with visiting family up to the bristlecones in Great Basin National park along the bristlecone trail. When we set off from the valley floor at 5300 ft, the mountains were enshrouded with clouds and we didn't know what would we encounter. Fortunately the clouds lifted and we had beautiful hiking weather.

The recent rain really brought out colors in the Prospect Mountain Quartzite. I don't remember the rocks ever looking so beautiful! Here's a sampling:

(and some limber pine needles thrown in for good measure)

We had to take quite a few breaks for Desert Girl, but she hiked all the way up and back. The promise of lunch at the cafe made for a no-complaining trip.

Desert Girl spotted this cool mushroom:

Before too long we were getting close to the bristlecone grove.

The bristlecones are always magical, and it was neat seeing them with the clouds drifting nearby.

The trail even had a few puddles, which reflected the bristlecones nicely.

We were really glad we made the trek despite the threatening weather. We heard a few rumbles of thunder, but didn't get rained on at all.
Definitely recommend checking out the wet rocks near the Wheeler Peak Campground!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Artist-in-Residence Presentation of Bristlecone Pine Painting

Recently Great Basin National Park 2013 Artist-in-Residence Bain Butcher returned to the park to unveil his work of art inspired by his stay last fall in the park. He did a beautiful oil painting of old-growth bristlecone pines on a limestone terrain with storm clouds in the background.

As part of his presentation, he shared how he had come upon deciding what to paint based on his trip to the park. Previously he had done many portraits, so I was curious how he would make the transition to landscapes. 

Bain said that when he walked among the grove of bristlecones on the northeast flank of Mt. Washington (a place he backpacked to), he found that the grove was alive. Bain is also a medical doctor, and I liked how he found an analogy between a twisted bristlecone pine and a human heart.

His artwork was well received and is displayed at a park visitor center.

During his presentations, young artists worked on honing their skills. Maybe someday they can become the Darwin Lambert Artist/Writer in Residence at Great Basin National Park!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I Found It--the Bristlecone Quarter Tree

 I've been spending a lot of time with bristlecones lately, and it's been wonderful. There is something so magical about these jewels of the high country, and in fact they have inspired a new writing project (to be revealed at a future date).

When I saw the bristlecone in the photo above, I had to keep coming back to photograph it. I walked around it several times, took photos from many angles, slept under it for part of the night, and took night-time photos of it under the Milky Way. There was something just so special about it.

As I reflected on that particular tree, I felt like I knew it, in a famous sort of way, like when you see a person and you feel that you know them even though it's the first time you've ever seen them.

Slowly it came to me. This bristlecone was famous. I had seen it before. Many times before. This was the bristlecone featured on the Great Basin quarter!

What a brush with celebrity!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Pyramid Peak Hike, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

To recap from a previous post, my husband and I climbed Pyramid Peak in Great Basin National Park last weekend. We started about 8,100 ft to reach the 11,926 foot summit. We chose to gain that 3,800 ft (more than climbing Wheeler Peak) by hiking near Dead Lake, which I covered in this last post.

Then we wanted to head over to the main Johnson Lake trail. On the topo map it looks quite easy, and the terrain wasn't too hard, with Engelmann spruce trees and patches of manzanita, but it sure felt long.

Eventually we reached the trail, where the going was a little easier. The trail must have had quite a rainstorm recently, because quite a few sections had sizeable gullies in them.

I was so happy to reach the Johnson Mill Historic Site, where we took a welcome break.

Then it was the very steep section up to the historic cabins near Johnson Lake. Imagining what it was like to be a miner is always fun--and intimidating. That could not have been an easy life.

After a quick snack and swimming break at the lake (it was warmer than expected), we took the steep trail up to the ridge.

This is a trail bighorn sheep would like--very steep and rocky!

As we reached the ridge, Pyramid Peak didn't look so far away.

There's no trail up to the top of Pyramid Peak, so we just made our way up the talus slope. As it got steeper, the peak looked farther away.

We kept hiking and hiking.

Johnson Lake looked very small below, so we knew we were making progress.

I busied my mind by searching for the beautiful alpine wildflowers, like these alpine fleabane (Erigeron leiomerus) and Holmgren's buckwheat (Eriogonum holmgrenii). I especially like the buckwheat, which only grows on the Snake Range.

Finally we made it to the top and got a photo to prove it (there's no register like in past years). In the background is the backside of Wheeler and Jeff Davis peaks. This view makes it a little more understandable why some of the early explorers thought the peak was volcanic, since it does somewhat resemble a crater. However, the rock is in fact quartzite. (Nevertheless, over 20% of the Great Basin is volcanic, a fun fact you can learn about more in my new book The Great Basin for Kids, available in the sidebar.)

From the top of Pyramid Peak you can see a bit of Baker Lake. It looks very small and by late summer a lot of the water has evaporated from it.

 We saw bird on the peak that still stumps me. If you know it, please leave a note in the comments!

We also saw white butterflies chasing each other. They never landed so I couldn't get a photo of them, but this butterfly, I think a Great Basin Fritillary, did stop nearby.

I was also excited to see this Anise Swallowtail, my first viewing of this species.

Instead of going back the southwest ridge and retracing our steps by Johnson Lake, we decided to take the eastern ridge down, join the Shoshone Trail that goes over South Fork Baker Creek to the Johnson Lake trail, and then loop around. From the top it didn't look too bad (it never does, right?).

We saw some different plants on the eastern side, including this Purple-flowered Stonecrop (Rhodiola integrifolium). It contrasted nicely with the Erigeron.

 As we descended, I really liked the view of Wheeler and Jeff Davis Peaks with their cloud shadows through the saddle of Pyramid and False Pyramid Peaks. I've hiked that saddle once, a pleasant hike. But then we decided to go down and meet up with the Baker Lake trail--not a good idea, the slopes are so steep that when you set a rock rolling, it just keeps rolling and rolling.

The clouds were building, so we were going down as fast as we could, but the descent was hard on our knees (mine still hurt a week later). We are definitely in monsoon season, with frequent afternoon thunderstorms.

A rock wren flitted on the rock in front of us.

Eventually we entered the trees, and before long the forest was so overgrown we could no longer follow the ridge. We dropped down on the Snake Creek side, bushwhacking through all sorts of vegetation. My favorite were the aspen groves, as they provided some shade and were a little easier to travel through.

Finally we made it back to camp, about seven hours after taking off. It was eight miles in total, but with our heavy packs, I don't think we could have gone much faster. We soaked our sore feet in the cold creek.

We packed up our camp before it started raining hard and paused to take a slightly blurry family photo. Thanks so much to our family and friends who watched the kids while we did the training hike. The kids certainly had a lot more fun with their cousins than they would have on that hike!

So in summary, Pyramid Peak is a beautiful peak to climb. If you climb it from the ridge between Johnson and Baker peaks, it's not too hard, but it still is a lot of elevation gain. Bushwhacking, as usual, makes a hike more difficult. But it's kind of fun seeing the less-traveled parts of the world! So I guess even though I was sore and tired after the hike, I will be doing more hikes.
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